Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Ivan Hewett

There are certain areas of feeling that classical music does especially well. One of them is the sense that everything will be all right, that there is order underneath the chaos, that peace will win out over rage and darkness. Let’s call it consolation.

It’s found most often in religious music, but not only there. And even when there are consoling words, there’s something in the music itself which redeems the mess of this world, even if we don’t believe in the words.

No composer expresses this mysterious feeling more powerfully than Bach, which may be why he appeals so much to unbelievers like me. Many things conspire to produce that feeling. It’s partly that so much later classical music springs out of Bach, so listening to him feels like going home. There’s also the sense that the music is obeying deep laws which spring out of the nature of music itself. Nobody invented them, they just exist. And finally there’s the sense that the crystalline order of Bach is rooted in simple everyday things – the rhythms of breathing and dancing, and sturdy common chords.


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